Puppeteer’s pantomime platforming perfection
Sit up and take note of this fantastic looking new game from JAPAN Studio and Sony
During Gamescom 2012, JAPAN Studio’s creative director and 20-year industry veteran, Gavin Moore, gave us a presentation on one of the more intriguing new titles to be announced at the expo – the PS3 exclusive Puppeteer. Moore has spent the past 9 years living in Japan, immersing himself in the culture and video game development scene there – an important point for the creative journey of Puppeter.
In a nutshell, Puppeteer is a platformer for all ages with some seriously impressive technology behind the scenes, and a unique, vivid presentation which goes hand-in-hand with the gameplay mechanics.
The story goes as such: one dark, moonlit night, a young boy named Kutaro was carried away by the maleficent Moon Bear King to a black castle where the unlucky lad was transformed into a puppet.
Kutaro displeased the terrible tyrant, who devoured the boy’s wooden head and cast his body away.
But the headless hero was not alone, for he had discovered a very special pair of scissors to help him on his harrowing adventure to find his head, and his way home.
The game is inspired by the complicated art of Japanese Bunraku puppet theatre, with core gameplay elements drawing on the style of scene changes, and the use of elaborate carved heads for the puppets. Other inspirations included the work of Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam (animator of Monty Python fame).
One of the goals during development was to reawaken the imagination in gamers, explained Moore. “In Puppeteer you think you know where you are going when you begin. Every five minutes it changes.”
Moore described his abstract concept of a “story weirdness curve” and “setting weirdness curve” working in tandem to continually suprise and entertain the player.
The game showcases some impressive technology to bring the environments to life. There is no middleware used, and everything is developed in-house by JAPAN Studio.
Since the game is set as if in a theatre, this means the “camera” does need to move, and all available PS3 processing power can be pumped into rendering the scene at hand. This allows for some elaborate set-pieces and features such as over 140 dynamic stage lights all working at once. The game is currently operating at 720p resolution, but JAPAN Studio are looking into at the feasibility of 1080p.
PS Move functionality was hinted at, but Moore remained tight-lipped about any multiplayer component, saying only that “there will be future announcements”.
The theatre setting provides fun touches, such an audience that reacts to the player’s actions – it has a pantomime atmosphere to it, with booing and jeers every time the bad guy appears; cheers and rapturous applause when the hero does something impressive; and laughter, of course, as the snippets of scripting to which we were treated provided some good chuckles.
Moore indicated that the game is still very much a work in progress, with professional voice acting yet to be done. Moore, himself, was fulfilling the role of dialogue in the demo, and did a cracking job. The tone and delivery of the dialogue was highly engaging, and the musical score accompanying the action set a wonderful audio stage.
The gameplay involves Kutaro and his flying sidekick, Ying Yang, who acts as a guide and assistant for certain areas in the game. The characters are controlled independently using the left and right analogue sticks.
The action is that of fairly standard platforming – running, jumping, dodging traps and defeating enemies. However, it is the way in which this is delivered that looks rather special.
The stages of the theatre are dynamic and constantly shifted around Kutaro. While the player’s perspective remains static, the scene changes create for dramatic and entertaining shifts in levels and gameplay, such as rotating scenery, and shifts to a top-down view.
With his head devoured by the Moon Bear King, Kutaro will find many replacements throughout his journey. These are both aesthetic and functional.
The heads act as lives; when damaged, Kutaro has 3 seconds to retrieve his head before dying. He has 3 lives to work with on a level, and once those are gone, he restarts at a checkpoint.
Each head has powers – we were shown a Hamburger head, Skull head, and Spider head – and each unlocks secret areas of he game to explore. They act as collectibles in the game, and must be found in the original hidden location in order to become available a further stages in the game.
Finally, we have the magical scissors, which are sentient enough to be able to choose their wielder, and take on the properties of that wielder.
Aside from being an obvious weapon, the scissors will also help pass puzzle-platforming areas, such as snipping through spider webs to progress.
Moore promised a lot of enemies in the game, and plenty of boss battles, each requiring a unique and clever way to defeat.
Puppeteer is a PS3 exclusive and currently has a 2013 release window.
Read all of MyGaming’s Gamescom 2012 coverage.